Several months ago we installed 4 new draw wire ice ablation trackers (DWIATs) on the Greenland ice sheet on behalf of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) and the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht (IMAU). The DWIATs monitor surface lowering by melting, movement as a result of ice dynamics, and temperature (inside the sensor box). Melt and motion are interlinked, as more melt leads to greater amounts of water at the glacier bed, which can result in increased glacier motion. The accuracy of localisation by GNSS satellites is accurate, allowing for the identification of periodical speed-up events. The DWIATs can be further tailored to your needs by adding additional sensors.
DWIATs are very rugged, and easy to install: 1) Assemble the tripod with hex keys. 2) Mount the sensor/logger box. 3) Drill a hole max. 14 m deep. 4) Lower the draw wire into the hole. 5) Switch on the system. The units’ batteries can be shipped without dangerous goods declaration, and allow solar charging at temperatures (well) below freezing. Even without recharging during dark winter months the trackers keep functioning for several months. Both software and hardware safeties are built into Greenland Guidance instruments; double measures to prevent battery discharge beyond critically low levels.
The units recently installed in Greenland transmit their data through the Iridium satellite network that has coverage at even the northern- and southernmost latitudes. The data feed straight into the Greenland Guidance data portal where they are displayed and made available for download on a private web page. If the instrument owners approve, the data can also be graphically displayed on (but not downloaded from) the public data portal. Naturally, the DWIATs also store their measurements locally in the datalogger, ready for read-out during the next field visit in one or several years.
The DWIAT data currently featured in our public data portal belong to GEUS who monitor the Greenland ice sheet mass balance in the PROMICE project.
About a decade ago a consortium of scientific and commercial organisations led by SKB in Sweden drilled a borehole in the bedrock underneath the Greenland ice sheet. Their goal: to quantify the level of interaction between the ice sheet and the groundwater below. To achieve this they drilled a 651 m long borehole angled underneath the ice sheet and equipped it with instruments. It is the first ever borehole drilled underneath an ice sheet – a truly unique project.
Recently, SKB asked Greenland Guidance to perform instrument maintenance to ensure the continuation of the time series during a period when travel to Greenland is complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We gratefully accepted the task. While on site, we saw an opportunity to also shoot some drone footage.
The measurements taken in the borehole form a long, uninterrupted, and scientifically surprising time series. With the help of scientists from the University of Montana and others, SKB has written up a manuscript that is currently under review in a scientific journal. Greenland Guidance helped with the interpretation of the borehole data in terms of ice melt and movement, and is proud collaborator on the study.
This year we took part in a scientific expedition to the southwestern region of the Greenland ice sheet. Representing the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), and in collaboration with the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (IMAU), we serviced instruments and stakes placed at 10 different sites on the ice sheet. We accessed the remote sites, up to 140 km into the ice sheet, by Air Greenland helicopter.
The scientific instruments by GEUS and IMAU monitor the interaction between the atmosphere and the ice sheet. In other words, they determine how much ice melts, and what is causing the melt: which combination of warm weather, solar radiation, strong winds, etc. The GEUS instruments are part of the measurement networks of the Greenland Analogue Project (GAP) and the Programme for Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet (PROMICE). We even installed 4 of our own draw-wire ice ablation trackers (DWIATs) – more about that in an upcoming news item.
The measurements are taken along the iconic K-transect, where ice sheet monitoring already began in 1990(!). The longer the times series, the more valuable it gets. Long climate records provide much needed context for measurements in individual years: if there is 5 m of ice melt – is it a lot (above average) or not?
Even though taking measurements over many years is crucial for climate science, it is not always an attractive option for funding agencies. So if you’d like to financially support the monitoring activities along the K-transect, it could make a large difference!
This september, a team of scientists from the University of Lausanne set out to collect sediment cores from the bottom of the fjord into which the glacier named Eqip Sermia calves icebergs. They contacted Greenland Guidance to help them find a boat with a winch that could lift the sediment cores from the bottom of the 200-m deep fjord to the surface. Finding a boat was easy, but finding a winch that would get the job done was more of a challenge. Especially in times of COVID-19 with life in Greenland coming to a standstill. But we managed to track one down so that the expedition could take place.
The scientists reported that “The expedition went great! We collect 35 sediment cores and things went well with the boat. It was a ton of work and a bit icy on the water by the end. It really went as good as we could have expected.”
This summer Greenland Guidance initiated a new service: expedition weather forecasting. Especially important for expeditions taking place in remote regions where internet access is virtually impossible. Three scientists from the University of Fribourg camped on the ice sheet while investigating meltwater in snow. We sent them detailed weather forecasts that they received on their Iridium satellite phone each morning before breakfast. We included reports on longterm stability and/or storms approaching so they could plan their activities accordingly.
The forecasts turned out particularly relevant when the team was trying to charter a helicopter for their departure, but cloud fields were causing frequent white-out conditions during which helicopters can’t fly. At an earlier date we warned them for heavy snowfall and strong winds for their location, which is extremely rare in July.
Upon safe return, we received useful feedback from the field party, allowing us to finetune our Iridium messaging forecast service. The team was pleased with the accuracy of the forecasts and reported “they were very valuable and helpful!”
The transect, consisting of 10 instrumented sites, is located along the western slope of the Greenland ice sheet, from the low-elevation ice sheet margin, up to an elevation of 1840 m above sea level. Both surface mass balance and weather/radiation observations are made, to be able to quantify ice loss, and to explain which processes (such as atmospheric warming) dominate this mass transfer from the ice sheet to the oceans.
The end of an era might be approaching as obtaining funding for the monitoring is becoming increasingly difficult. Even though the measurement time series is becoming more important with each added year – in Greenland there is nothing that compares. And even though many important scientific publications have relied on these data in the past.
That’s why SKB, the primary funder of GEUS’s efforts at the K-transect for the past 13 years, requested Greenland Guidance to construct a video with the aim to make more people aware of the climate and ice sheet science being done in Greenland, and to attract additional funding.
If you’d like to support climate science through this project, then do not hesitate to get in touch -> see the video for contact information. Or get in touch with us, and we’ll guide you to the appropriate people.
Greenland Guidance provided insights in choosing the most durable parts for a drill being developed by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). It’s tricky business as the melt-tip drill will generate high temperatures while melting its way through cold glacier ice. The drill development is for the HOTROD project headed by Liam Colgan, whereas Chris Shields is the project’s CTO. We were excited to be able to contribute to this project by choosing parts and shipping them over to GEUS. We’d love to see the drill in action in the field, either in 2020 or 2021.
Following our project of recovering a part from an Airbus A380 airplane engine from the Greenland ice sheet last year, we wrote a paper detailing our methods. The part was crucial for determining what went wrong on that flight over Greenland in 2017. Read the paper by Ken Mankoff and coauthors in the Journal of Glaciology here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/jog.2020.26.
On 30 September 2017, an Air France Airbus A380-800 suffered a failure of its fourth engine while over Greenland. This failure resulted in the loss of the engine fan hub, fan blades and surrounding structure. An initial search recovered 30 pieces of light debris, but the primary part of interest, a ~220 kg titanium fan hub, was not recovered because it had a different fall trajectory than the light debris, impacted into the ice-sheet’s snow surface, and was quickly covered by drifting snow. Here we describe the methods used for the detection of the fan hub and details of the field campaigns. The search area included two crevasse fields of at least 50 snow-covered crevasses 1 to ~30 m wide with similar snow bridge thicknesses. After 21 months and six campaigns, using airborne synthetic aperture radar, ground-penetrating radar, transient electromagnetics and an autonomous vehicle to survey the crevasse fields, the fan hub was found within ~1 m of a crevasse at a depth of ~3.3 to 4 m and was excavated with shovels, chain saws, an electric winch, sleds and a gasoline heater, by workers using fall-arrest systems.
A few weeks ago Greenland Guidance helped the BBC with their operations in Greenland. They spoke with locals, interviewed climate scientists including professor Jason Box, and documented a tree planting project. Their expedition resulted in stunning footage, showcased in several news segments about Greenland and climate change. We were very happy to support this BBC operation and once again see how they operate – with a high level of professionalism.
This July, Dutch newspaper NRC visited Greenland to document climate-related changes in the ice sheet. We provided guidance on when to go where, who to talk to, and we took care of some of the logistics required to stay among scientists and visit the ice sheet.
Science editor Marcel aan de Brugh: “To put together my trip to Greenland, I got help from Greenland Guidance. They know the research community very well, and had different options for me to join researchers in the field. They also arranged some other things, like a stay at the Kangerlussuaq International Science Support. My 7 day trip to Ilulissat and Kangerlussuaq (and from there onto the ice sheet) was impressive and unforgettable.”
In September 2017, an Air France flight traveling west over the Greenland ice sheet experienced a failure in its 4th engine. All on board were unharmed, and the plane landed safely in Goose Bay, Canada. To figure out what exactly went wrong with the engine, a search for the missing engine parts was executed by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) supported by Greenland Guidance.
The torn-away parts of the airplane engine dropped onto the ice sheet, but the heavy pieces of the fan hub – needed for the investigation – impacted into the snow surface and were lost from sight almost instantly, getting buried further with every subsequent snowfall event high on the ice sheet. The search for the largest and potentially most interesting part was difficult due to severe storms, snow-covered crevasses in the region, and the ever-present risk of polar bears passing by. Guided to a few promising sites by airplane-based radar measurements performed by ONERA (the French aerospace lab), the initial ground-based detection and therefore exact localisation was done by a radar-equipped robot (!) operated by Polar Research Equipment (PRE). The robot was crucial in regions too dangerous for people to tread unsecured, because of crevasses in excess of 10 m wide, yet invisible to the eye due to the snow cover. It wasn’t until the very end of the 3rd field campaign in spring 2019 that a metal detector custom-built by the Aarhus University HydroGeophysics Group clearly detected metal a few meters below the surface.
Greenland Guidance took part in the 4th recovery expedition to the ice sheet, bringing 3 experienced mountaineers from the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) to the scene. The expedition commenced on 28 June 2019, transporting as many as would fit in an AS350 Air Greenland helicopter (5 people) to the dig site. In spite of all safety precautions (mostly related to digging in a crevassed region), we made good progress. By the end of the second afternoon, we struck titanium. Eager to liberate the part, we kept working until after midnight. But melting the engine part loose and lifting it to the ice sheet surface proved very difficult, as we wanted to avoid contact with the yet-to-be-investigated part as much as possible. On 30 June, after an estimated 20 hours of digging, melting and lifting, the job was done and all returned safely to Narsarsuaq, 100 km southeast of where the engine part had impacted.